We pulled out of the inlaw’s house for the last time yesterday morning- at least the last time for this visit. We had no plans aside from wandering about in hopes of seeing some of the countryside and finding a couple of junk/antique stores to poke around in on the way to the bay for some seafood.
Not far from the house the kiddo asked if we would stop and take a look at a small cemetery on the side of the road. We’ve stopped at several public grave sites tucked alongside back roads and residential streets in our travels in New England, especially the ones marked historic cemeteries. It’s always interesting to see the way time and the elements wear away the carefully chosen descriptions of those whose lives are commemorated in these tiny spots.
As we looked at the grave markers it became clear this was a family plot. We noticed that men from this particular family had served in and survived the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II and lived to be buried years later among family here. The land had clearly belonged to the Griffiths since at least the early 1800s.
About that time a truck pulled up and an older gentleman joined us. He asked if we were relatives, and we explained how we came to be there on a cold windy morning. He introduced himself as George Jordan and explained that he was part of the Griffith family- well, he had married into the family- and that his wife was the most recent of those buried.
We remarked on the history represented among the people there, and in turn he shared some of the family’s story- how they had owned most of the land in the area until about 60 years ago. That even some of those who had moved away we had stones here because they’d been cremated far away. And “…you ought to have a stone somewhere” says George. This was part of the reason he and his wife had bought back the parcel of land that included the gravesite when the land started getting developed a decade or so ago.
He talked of the family members he knew- his wife’s 12 siblings and their adventures, his children and how his daughter had moved into the home just up the hill. Then he came to the part of the story when his wife become ill. His eyes had been so lively and bright until he got to the part where his love had gone to the hospital on a Thursday for a broken hip, was ok on Friday and Saturday but on Sunday he lost her. He leaned heavily on his cane and choked back tears… “she told them not to put I tubes or anything. Then she was gone.”
He didn’t look up as I touched his shoulder, agreeing that saying goodbye is hard. “How many years did you have together?”
He looked me in the eye, still crying, but no longer lost in memories. “Seventy years!”
“That’s a good run,” I said.
He smiled. I asked if they had gotten married when they were just children.
“I was 19,” said George, blue eyes snapping. “You know I just turned 90,” And like that, the jaunty man who had stepped out of the truck and climbed the steps to meet us was back. He pointed to the bracelet on his wrist and said, “I got this because I want to go when it’s my time. No hanging around.”
This was a man as sure of his desires at 90 as he was at 19. George is a teller of stories who probably never expected to meet a family from Florida today. Maybe he expected us to be from among the generations of Griffiths that extend out from his dear wife’s family. But he couldn’t have known how much it meant to these strangers to hear his stories and share a tender moment with him.
We certainly never expected to meet George. And yet, I’m glad we did. And I’m glad a part of my heart will remain on that hillside where the Griffiths are gathered. I pray that on the day they gather to say farewell to George that many more stories are told there. Just hopefully not too soon.